RV Education 101 featured in the Fayetteville
The world of RV TV
By Chick Jacobs
Mark Polk was doing his best to make his little corner of the world a summertime place.
He stood smiling in short sleeves while a chilling north wind did its best to force a shiver.
But for a couple of minutes Polk held fast, creating an illusion of warmth as the wind whistled through the branches of a nearby pecan tree and around the legs of a camera.
And months, even years from now, when people see Polk talking about the joys of RV ownership, they won't know just how chilly he was.
But they will appreciate how smart he is.
Polk and his wife, Dawn, run RV Education 101, a video company that makes instructional videos that cater to the growing need for "how-to" information among RV travelers.
During their travels, they met up with Rob Engman, a Canadian television producer.
The result - a series of TV spots and a lot of attention for the Cedar Creek couple.
Now, Mark appears each week in a program called ''RVTV,'' which airs on the Outdoor Channel. He addresses questions from viewers on a variety of issues in a segment on the show.
"At first we were calling it 'Tech Tips,' but that was sort of limiting," said Dawn. "People have so many questions about RVs, and they aren't just technical."
"So we changed the name to 'RV Savvy,'" Mark said. "That really broadens the field.''
The show recently was picked up by the Outdoor Channel for two more years, which led Engman and a small production crew back to Cedar Creek. They filmed 13 segments and will come back this fall for 13 more.
In each segment, Mark and Engman, who is the executive producer and host of "RVTV," discuss some aspect of the RV life. In one segment, they may talk about caring for a generator. In another, it might be planning for severe weather.
"It's amazing how much people need to know about traveling in an RV," Dawn said. "And just how little there is out there to help."
That lack of information led the Polks into the business a few years ago. Mark's work with RVs since he was a teenager gave him a wealth of technical expertise. After retiring from the Army, he worked at a local RV company and was besieged by novice RV'ers seeking information.
He discovered that while people were eager to hit the road, they weren't prepared for the changes that came with the vagabond lifestyle.
"The world is a different place in an RV," he said. "It's a great way to travel, and the people are some of the most friendly you'll ever meet. But there's a price in technology to having all those home- away-from-home conveniences. There's a lot of things to remember. And people weren't picking up on that until they had a problem."
"People think of RV travel as all blue skies," Engman said. "And it's a wonderful way to travel. You just have to be prepared for the times it's not all sunshine."
The Polks began looking on the Web to find video information for their RV customers.
"There was nothing," Dawn said. "It was amazing. But we started thinking. If no one else was there, why not us?"
In 1999, the couple created RV Education 101 with video titles such as "Pop Up 101" and "Motor Home 101." The videos answer a variety of questions, sort of an HGTV show on wheels.
"We use our RV to travel, so we know a lot of the questions that might come up," Dawn said. "And new RV owners need a source of information that answers their questions.
"Mark has written a lot for the trade magazine, so his expertise is well known. It's surprising no one came up with the RVTV format before."
Actually, several people have tried, but none of the shows were successful before Engman's. His show was originally aimed at a Canadian market, and Engman was looking for a knowledgeable, yet personable person to answer readers' questions.
He found that person living just outside of Fayetteville. Polk agreed to help, figuring the increased publicity would help spur video sales. He was right - after the first year of "RV Savvy" segments appeared, sales of the couple's videos jumped tenfold.
When Engman asked if the Polks would like to continue the segments, they were delighted. So this past weekend, the Canadian crew chugged cross-country to resume filming. "We had some nasty wind across Oklahoma," said Engman's wife, Carla.
A chilly wind wasn't the only challenge to the video project. Occasionally trucks roared up N.C. 53, and a couple of nearby dogs seemed to have taken a noisy interest in the proceedings.
"Maybe we should do a segment for Animal Planet," joked Dawn.
Then there's the huge pecan tree that dominates the yard. While other plants had embraced the new season, the pecan stood stark, its barren branches reaching just out of camera range. It required some creative camera work by photographer Paul Cruickshank to keep the illusion of summer intact.
Certainly Mark was doing his part. Short-sleeved, tan and trim, he talked about summertime issues while the last gasps of winter whirled off-camera.
"This is our own little world," Engman said. "The idea is that no matter who sees it, or when, it looks like a place they'd like to visit. We don't tell them it's someone's back yard in North Carolina."
The show airs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday on the Outdoor Channel. It can be seen in 30 million homes across North America and is available locally on DirecTV and the Dish Network. It's not available on region cable systems
Still, the three- and four-minute segments that air each week have made the Polks celebrities among RV enthusiasts. They travel approximately 12,000 miles a year, and their Trail-Lite RV houses the couple's two dogs as well.
"The demographics of RV enthusiasts are changing," Mark said. "It's not just retirees out there on the road. It's not just people with money and free time."
"More and more, the people you meet in an RV park are a cross-section of North America," Dawn added. "Very friendly, wonderful folks. There's an entry level for every age and income."
And questions all along the way?
"If there are," Mark said, "We'll be there to answer them."
No matter what the season.
Staff writer Chick Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3515.